We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
Knowing that they hold future promise.
-Oscar Romero, “Future Not Our Own”
In 2014, the Chinese Progressive Association launched Seeding Change – A Center for Asian American Movement Building. Rooted in CPA’s 40+ years of grassroots organizing and alliance building, Seeding Change hopes to explore and build a national pipeline for the next generation of AAPI organizers; create an infrastructure for AAPI grassroots organizing; and experiment with building power and scale for our movements toward a vibrant social and economic justice movement. Seeding Change is a platform for CPA to connect our grassroots organizing work on a local and national level, and to partner with other statewide and national formations and alliances.
When CPA was founded in 1972, San Francisco and the country were in the midst of great societal change. Young people and elders came together to form an organization that would serve the needs of the community and demand that the voice of low-income families, immigrants, and people of color were heard. Over the last 42 years, CPA has organized low-income Chinese immigrant youth, tenants, and workers to improve the living and working conditions in the community. We co-founded leading citywide alliances that passed groundbreaking policies and laws like Minimum Wage Ordinance and Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. Now, the task before us is to advance our movement building work and connect the local to the national.
Why Seeding Change
Although AAPIs are one of the fastest growing populations in the country, we are nearly invisible in the public discourse as strategic allies to a winning progressive coalition with other poor, working class, immigrant communities, women, queer and trans communities, and labor unions. Even as AAPIs are the most diverse and complex community, there are commonalities in high poverty rates, immigration, lack of access to work, healthcare, housing, and education. Internationally, as the US pivots nearly 70% of military resources to the Asia Pacific Region, the role of Asian progressives in the US is even more crucial and strategic.
We need to unlock the potential power of organizing the AAPI community towards a long term social and economic justice agenda. However, the overall AAPI organizing infrastructure has been weak and disparate. Without greater investment in answering this question and building unity and coherence within the grassroots AAPI sector, we may not be able to genuinely meet the needs of the organizing in the AAPI community. In a period of the rise of the tea party right and post-9/11 xenophobia, we need a strategic and long-term investment in organizing in AAPI communities.
Seeding Change’s key strategies are to: 1) build a national pipeline for the next generation of AAPI organizers; 2) create infrastructure for AAPI grassroots organizing; and 3) experiment with building power and scale for our movements toward a vibrant social and economic justice movement. Seeding Change will be an important platform for CPA to connect the grassroots AAPI organizing work on a local and national level, and to partner with other statewide and national formations and alliances. Grassroots organizing is often seen as small and localized. Instead, it should be seen as scalable and layered with strategic local, state and national interventions. As with the grassroots sector as a whole, there is an opportunity for the AAPI grassroots sector to be more coherent and strategic in building independent power with other progressives on a statewide and national level.
Through our work with other grassroots organizations working in the Asian immigrant communities over the last 2 decades, CPA has worked to strengthen organizing in Asian American communities. In 2004, in response to the rise of neo-conservatism and the re-election of President George W. Bush, CPA co-founded the API Movement Building Network, which brought together grassroots organizations and community activists to develop new strategies and practices to advance organizing in our communities. Through API Movement Building and the US Social Forum, CPA co-coordinated the Chinatown Grassroots Organizing Exchanges, bringing together Chinatown-based organizations and their members to share their experiences and struggles. From these grassroots exchanges, grew organizer exchanges, where community organizers came together to share strategies and tools to sharpen their skills and vision. In 2011, we convened the first API Organizers Retreat in San Gabriel Valley with 12 AAPI grassroots organizations from across the country, especially with Southeast Asian grassroots organizations that were on the leading edge of youth, queer and trans organizing. These exchanges were an important space to share best practices in organizational and campaign strategy development, and most importantly build a movement. This work laid the groundwork for Grassroots APIs Rising.
At the same time, in 2009, CPA started the Eva Lowe Summer Fellowship for Social Justice to create a pipeline and to invest in the next generation of organizers. The fellowship is named after long time community activist, Eva Lowe, who in the 1930’s, co-founded the Chinese Worker Mutual Aid Association, CPA’s predecessor organization. Already our fellows are unions and community organizers, teachers, artists, and community activists. With this success of this program, this summer we are piloting the National Fellowship for Asian American Organizing and Civic Engagement in 7 cities and 7 host sites.
As CPA celebrated our 40th anniversary in 2012, we began a series of intergenerational Movement Building Conversations with our founders and other movement leaders. This Spring, we continued our movement building conversations and hosted a community intergenerational dialogue with Grace Lee Boggs and the Boggs Center; we also organized a 2-day Serve the People 2.0 Convening in San Francisco with over 100 Asian American organizers, activists, and academics. This Fall, we will continue our national Asian American movement building conversations with in-person and online discussions.
In 2013, as more and more of our fellows were entering the movement in paid or volunteer work, we started the API Coaching Circle for Organizers to support young API community and labor organizers to thrive in their work for social and economic justice, to organize for the long haul, and to transform our communities and society towards justice, love, and equity. The coaching circle in the Bay Area that is facilitated a professional coach and long time activist and organizer. We plan to pilot this program on a national level in 2015.
In our movement’s tradition, we need to be organizing and developing ourselves and each other – at all levels. Seeding Change is our contribution and our seeds of change to long-term movement building. In “A Future Not Our Own,” Oscar Romero writes, “We plant the seeds that one day will grow… We water seeds already planted, Knowing that they hold future promise… We are prophets of a future not our own.” In this way, CPA is seeding change for a future not our own but for a just, democratic and sustainable future for all.